The Coronavirus and the Unequal Distribution of Domestic Labor

You’ve heard it a million times, this is the new normal. Whether we like it or not many of us are spending more time at home than ever before. Our homes are our offices, our restaurants, our gyms, our school house and our vacation rentals. For some the adjustment was effortless. For others, it has been exhausting. The difference between these two different groups of people usually comes down to gender and parenthood status. 

The Downfall of the Distribution of Labor and the Rise of Resentment 

When we all went on lockdown in March of 2020, it happened in a blink of an eye. One day we’re commuting  to work while kids are safely tucked away at school and life is chugging along as per usual; soccer games, piano practice, and pta meeting included. Then one day we all stop. We aren’t commuting to work, we’re navigating working from home. Our kids aren’t safe at school, we’re “schooling” them from our kitchen tables. There are no soccer games, no piano practice and no pta meetings. (Although, that last one might be a blessing.) 

To some extent, mostly based on where you live, we are still in that place, that new normal established in March when the world stopped chugging along. When that happened a curious thing started to occur. More and more women, wives and mothers were finding themselves discontent. Not discontent because they were on lockdown, necessarily, but  because they were having to do all of this ALONE. Many women were finding themselves handling the lion’s share of all the domestic duties despite the fact that they too had to hold a fulltime job with the new added complexities of teleworking. 

The Why

The answer is a little more complex than can be answered in a blog post, but it boils down to the basic domestic distribution of labor. Under normal circumstances partners have an understanding of what’s expected of them. Maybe one partner picks the children up from school and the other drops them off. Maybe one partner handles soccer games and the other dinners. Maybe one does the dishes and one the laundry. There is a basic rhythm. An understanding. 

Then everything changes. 

In some (many even) households the husbands and fathers were still living much of the same life. Wake up, handle a few pre-work responsibilities, work and then come “home”. This of course, left the woman to step in and add all the extra covid-related responsibilities to her task list. But why? 

The hard truth is simply because men and women both still expect different levels of domestic involvement from women than they do men. Women, even working women, are still expected to care for the children and the home more than men are. 

The Solution

So how do we solve this problem. 

Step 1: Acknowledge the problem. Take a moment and think about how your day progresses, then think about your partners. Is the distribution of labor fair? Are you both equally contributing to the domestic responsibility you share? 

Step 2: Communicate. Talk to your partner about how you feel. In a non-judgmental way point out the areas in which you feel you have been expected to over-contribute and where your partner can pitch in.

Step 3: Make a Plan. Once you both agree that there needs to be a change make a plan. Make a list of domestic responsibilities and start dividing them up. Now is a great time to create a cleaning calendar or chore chart of some kind for the whole family. This plan will make it easier for everyone (even the kids) to know who is mainly responsible for what. 

Step 4: Adjust the Plan. Things are still changing every minute. Be sure to adjust your plan as the need arises. Ex: your responsibilities will likely look different during the school year, as opposed to summer. 

Finding a balance is hard under the best of circumstances, this is not the best of circumstances. If you need help, reach out to a certified counselor like myself or a colleague. If you feel you can navigate alone just remember to communicate, communicate and when you’re all done communicating – communicate some more. 

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